Reverend Hale Examines Betty Parris (Act I)

Reverend Parris summons Reverend Hale to banish talk of the presence of witchcraft in Salem. Hale is an expert on the matter, and even Arthur Miller notes that he is a potentially comic figure when he regrets in his notes on Hale: ‘One cannot help noting that one of his lines has never yet raised a laugh in any audience that has seen this play; it is his assurance that “We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise”’. Suffice it to say, our audience didn’t laugh here either, but this is perhaps due to the fact that Hale is hardly established as a potentially comic figure by the time he delivers these lines.

In the clip here, Hale examines Betty for evidence of witchcraft and finds it.

The portrayal of Hale is deliberately exaggerated: he is pompous and full of himself. The examination is ridiculous, and the discovery at Betty’s knees is amplified by the look Hale exchanges with Thomas Putnam at the foot of the bed.

Later in the scene, Hale’s examination of Tituba was similarly absurd. His pace was fast, compelling Tituba to agree to a non-existent compact with Lucifer, and his gestures wild. His comic performance married ludicrous content with an ecstatic delivery, something thrown into relief by Tituba’s calmer, more rational response: she realises that she has to agree with this madman if she’s to save her own life.